Republican lawmakers at a hearing on Tuesday said that the U.S. consumer watchdog should stop limiting the way banks charge overdraft protection fees even as the agency considers tighter regulations on the practice.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sounded the alarm on overdraft fees, saying they take advantage of often low-income people and could lead to account closures.
Republicans on the committee that oversees financial services disagree, and Texas Representative Randy Neugebauer plans to introduce a bill later this week to replace the agency’s director with a five-person commission appointed by the president.
Overdraft fees on checking accounts average $34, and are mostly incurred on transactions of $24 or less, according to the agency. In the end, consumers pay the equivalent of more than 17,000 percent in annual interest rate for a loan.
A 2010 rule prohibits banks from charging overdraft fees on ATM withdrawals or debit card transactions unless a customer opts for it.
The agency is currently mulling options to further regulate overdraft charges on bank accounts and prepaid cards, but faces pushback from the financial industry and Republicans, who say the agency is overstepping its authority.
“Sometimes, I think you are trying to do good, but in the end, what you do creates harm to an industry where people are using products that they actually know what they’re getting into,” Representative Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican said at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the agency’s semi-annual report to Congress on Tuesday.
But Democrats like Maxine Waters of California and David Scott of Georgia, want the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate overdrafts with Waters calling for a total ban.
Republicans have long been critical of the consumer watchdog created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, saying it lacks accountability.
The agency in November proposed rules to treat overdraft fees on prepaid cards as a form of credit and give consumers a period of time to repay.
“Our thinking is that when you have credit on a prepaid card, that this could be treated similar to the way it’s treated under the credit card rules and the card act,” agency Director Richard Cordray told lawmakers at the hearing.
Other Republicans, including Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, said their constituents want the right to use overdraft options, especially in emergencies.
“True consumer protection empowers consumers and respects their economic freedoms to make important informed choices with freedom from government interference,” Hensarling said.
(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)